Saudi Cleric Dies After Five Months in Prison for Dissent

Ahmed al-Amari, who previously served as a dean at Islamic University in Medina, was arrested in August in crackdown on people believed to be close to a religious scholar who published a book critical of the Saudi royal family

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony for the 95th batch of cadets from the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 24, 2018.

A prominent Saudi cleric has died after five months in detention, his family and rights activists said, amid heightened criticism of Riyadh’s human rights record following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Ahmed al-Amari, who previously served as a dean at Islamic University in Medina, was transferred to a government hospital earlier this month after suffering a brain hemorrhage, London-based rights group ALQST and activists said late on Sunday. 

Amari’s son, Abdullah, confirmed the death on Twitter and said funeral prayers would be held on Monday afternoon.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi authorities.

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Amari, a Sunni Muslim, was arrested in August when security forces raided his home and then held in solitary confinement, according to the activists.

He and some others detained at the same time are believed to be close to influential religious scholar Safar al-Hawali, who was arrested in July 2018 after publishing a book critical of the Saudi royal family.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest and alleged torture of women activists as well as liberal intellectuals and Islamist activists, even as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has enacted some high-profile social and economic reforms.

The Gulf Arab state, an absolute monarchy where public protests and political parties are banned, says it does not have political prisoners and denies torture allegations. Officials have said monitoring of activists is needed to ensure social stability.

The murder of Khashoggi, a longtime royal insider who had become a critic of the crown prince, inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last October sparked a global outcry, tarnishing the crown prince’s reputation and focusing attention on the treatment of activists and the war in Yemen.